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Teenage soldier 'critical' in N.Ireland

Army patrol
On patrol in the Ardoyne, Belfast  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- A teenage soldier remains critically ill in hospital after a blast bomb attack in Northern Ireland.

The Welch Fusilier was wounded at a checkpoint close to the Holy Cross primary school where Protestants have been protesting since the start of term.

The 18-year-old from Wales was injured as unionist politicians moved to rescue the Northern Ireland assembly in the wake of the IRA starting to decommission its arsenals.

A woman is being questioned about the attack on the soldier which is being treated by the Royal Ulster Constabulary as attempted murder.

He was injured when crowds hurled petrol bombs and other missiles at an army checkpoint close to the Holy Cross primary school.

UK begins N.Ireland pullback 
IRA statement 

He underwent emergency surgery on his lower body on Saturday at Belfast's Royal Victoria hospital where a spokesman said he was in a critical condition.

RUC Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan blamed the loyalist Ulster Defence Association for the attack.

"British soldiers attempting to protect both sections of the community were being attacked by so-called loyalists, some even wearing poppies," he said.

"It's absolutely disgusting. People up there have a death wish on their community."

His commanding officer, Lt Col Mark Blagbrough, told the UK's Press Association news agency that the attack was "a coordinated, highly planned and deliberate attempt to kill a soldier".

Holy Cross -- a Roman Catholic primary school in a Protestant part of the Ardoyne area of Belfast -- has been the centre of a sectarian protest for more than a month.

Protestants say their homes have been regularly attacked by Catholics and that they were being threatened by paramilitaries using schoolchildren as a cover for entering the Protestant areas and

Catholics say they have the right to walk their children to school by the most direct route - which is along the Protestant streets - and that taking a longer route would be surrendering to loyalists.

As the injured soldier was being treated in hospital Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble was securing the backing of his party's executive to stand for assembly first minister -- a job he quit to pressure the IRA into disarming.

Trimble: Faces fight to win old job back  

But his resignation also threw the peace process into chaos and caused the regional assembly to be suspended.

The IRA announcement on Tuesday came just two days before the UK Government had to decided whether to call fresh elections or return power to London.

The assembly begins work on appointing the first minister this week but Trimble cannot be guaranteed he will get the job.

To win the post, the UUP leader needs the votes of 50 percent plus one of all the members in the chamber -- unionists and nationalists.

There are a total of 58 Protestant assembly members in the 108-seat chamber and Trimble needs 55 votes to be reinstated.

But with some unionist and loyalist members refusing to accept the IRA has gone far enough on decommissioning Trimble knows he will get a rough ride as he fights to become first minister again.


• Q&A Holy Cross school violence
September 5, 2001
• IRA begins disarming
October 23, 2001
• Unionists quit assembly
October 18, 2001

• Ulster Unionist Party
• Northern Ireland Assembly
• Good Friday Agreement

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